The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Sports

March 20, 2012

Matt of the mat

Grand Valley standout Matt Zaller came a long way once he believed in himself like others did

Nothing can carry a wrestler further than a hatred of losing. And, boy, does Grand Valley 195-pound grappler Matt Zaller hate to lose, which became quite clear at the Division III state tournament.

“I remember at state,” Zaller said. “I lost my first match and just walked off. Coach (Steve Paratto) asked me what was wrong. I told him I didn’t come down here to be embarrassed. He told me to go show him on the mat in my next match.”

Zaller did go out and show it on the mat, winning his next three matches at Value City Arena in Columbus by seven points or more and giving him a place on the podium in sixth. He was the only Ashtabula County competitor to earn that distinction.

“The second kid I faced, I don’t want to say I wanted to hurt him, but I wanted to make sure he walked off the mat the loser and I was getting my hand raised,” Zaller said. I wanted to make sure I did what I had to to win the next match and the match after that.”

The son of Matt and Jen Zaller is the Star Beacon Ashtabula County Wrestler of the Year.

“That’s great,” Zaller said. “It’s something I always wanted. I missed being the (Star Beacon Ashtabula County) Defensive Lineman of the Year. Wrestler of the Year is awesome.”

The senior finished the season 44-7 with 30 pins, finishing fourth at the Garfield Heights district tournament and was the sectional champion at Beachwood.

Despite that resume, Zaller was not entirely happy with his performance after losing his final two matches of the year.

“You always look back after you lose and you know exactly what you did wrong,” he said. “The mistakes I made (in those final matches) were simple mistakes I would normally never make.”

With a bit of time, and some words of encouragement from a rival coach, Zaller came to appreciate the season he’d put together.

“Looking back, you have to think of how many wrestlers are in each weight class in Ohio,” he said. “Out of one or two thousand kids, I was in the top six.”

“At the Star Beacon-Mike Scully Senior Classic, (Pymatuning Valley coach) David Miller ask Matt how come he wasn’t smiling ear to ear after placing at state,” Paratto said. “Matt said the last couple matches were disappointing.

“(Miller) told Matt that he was a guaranteed six (for being pinned) as a freshman and sophomore and to go from there to where he ended up was a huge accomplishment.”   

In the days leading up to the state tournament, Zaller and his brother Glenn, who also qualified, suffered a great loss with their grandfather, Leonard Zaller, passing away.

“My grandma (Christine Zaller) was in the hospital at the same time,” Zaller said. “She made sure to call us and tell us that no matter what, my grandpa would want us to go down and show everyone who the Zallers are. He never had the chance to do anything like wrestler because he was sick as a kid.”

Together, the Zaller boys took on the best the state had to offer, something that meant a lot to Matt.

“This is the last sport we’ll ever do together,” Zaller said. “To be down there at that level, wrestling together, if nothing else, it ended our more season perfectly than (if only one of us was there).”

Also in Columbus with the Zallers were a few old friends. Teammate Sean Szitas was a state qualifier, as was rival Zach Campbell of PV.

“Me, Sean, Glenn and Zach Campbell have been wrestling together since like third grade with the Grand Valley Colts,” Zaller said.

Zaller came a long way from his early days with the Mustangs. In the middle of his junior season, the light went on.

“We went to the Hawken Tournament and I beat Chuck Crowther from PV,” Zaller said. “He was one of the tougher wrestlers in the area. I beat one of the tougher guys I could step between the lines with.

“It was something I never expected at that point in the year. I always went out and I was under .500. I had wrestled for years and it never clicked.”

Once it did click, Zaller became the formidable foe others considered one of the tough guys. All that was missing was a bit of confidence.

“There were moves I used that I hadn’t used before (in beating Crowther),” Zaller said. “Coach had showed me to do them the right way and when I did them the way he showed me, they worked.”

Zaller used his family as a pillar of support along the way.

“Sometimes, I can’t here the coaches (my family) is yelling so loud,” Zaller said. “My grandma got so excited, she nearly fell onto the mats one time when I was wrestling.

“My mom and grandma make sure we’re fed and my dad is our No. 1 supporter. They’re always proud of what we do as long as we try our best. I think my dad knew long before I did (I would place at state). I also think he knew if I gave my best I would end up where I was.”

Family wasn’t the only source of help Zaller received along the way.

“Bill Campbell, Zach’s dad, got us all started and taught us a love for wrestling.”               

Ettinger is a freelance from Ashtabula. Reach him bettinger@starbeacon.com.

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